Grant Kirby: Auckland a laughing stock to the rest of NZ


Most Aucklanders are frustrated that their city has become so difficult to live in.

There is congestion in the city centre, snail-paced commutes on crawling motorways, near empty cycle lanes and – everywhere – thousands and thousands of orange road cones that should signal progress but, increasingly, warn of delay.

One disruptive work merges into another as we move around the city. Where is the co-ordination and control that the council is obligated to exercise?

Ignorance of cause and effect has resulted in infill housing clogging residential streets with parked cars, and strict urban limits have stopped the development of comprehensively planned, self-contained, incentivised satellite communities.

While I personally support the new City Rail Link, the disruption has fatally damaged adjoining businesses and there is no mechanism for the cost of this loss to be reimbursed to the owners. It is not included as a cost of the project, but it is a very real cost that should be provided for.

What is the true cost-benefit of under-utilised cycleways and reconstructed traffic islands?

Is all this work really necessary? Or do the politicians find it easier to increase rates than ask hard questions about all current expenditure items?

Aucklanders are not experiencing life in a touted world-class city, a confident and aspirational city that once branded itself as the “City of Sails”. Instead, they live in a city that talks big but mostly doesn’t deliver. For 10 years and more we have been squabbling about the next harbour crossing, light rail, a better connection to the airport and where to shift the port.

We have not even made decisions about these pivotal influencers of the city’s future development and in the meantime we seem incapable of protecting the city’s trees or the prime horticultural land which grows our vegetables.

No wonder they laugh at us elsewhere in the country.

But if Auckland keeps growing, ever-increasing congestion is inevitable, right? Wrong.

What we need is a comprehensive plan for outlying growth that includes local community amenities, incentivises local employment and integrates all the parts much better. Such a plan would recognise the restraints of the Auckland isthmus and its negative implications for future good planning and infrastructure decisions.

Instead, I see city growth driven by ideology rather than by the acceptance that poor and splintered past political decision-making, coupled with notable failures, needs a fresh approach.

For example, building a harbour bridge far too small in the 1950s; shelving 1960s rapid rail for electoral reasons; the electoral surrendering of expensive consents in the 1990s to build an underground bus terminus at Britomart and underground Quay St to stitch the city to the water.

In today’s climate of political correctness, I have noticed that public bodies seem to attract new graduates who, rather than being motivated by providing excellent public service, are more concerned with achieving their own ideologically driven agendas.

Politicians and council managers do not display good leadership or management abilities and too often we witness the majority being made subservient to noisy minorities.

It is worth noting that, despite all the rhetoric, planning and spending, the percentage of Aucklanders taking public transport is smaller than it was 70 years ago.

• Grant Kirby, MNZIS, ONZM, was chairman and founder of the One Auckland Trust, which promoted creation of a single city in the Auckland region. He was a member and chairman of the Local Government Commission for 10 years and a senior officer of the Auckland City Council.

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